Tag Archives: creativity

Finding a work discipline that works

While reading about the abundant and various ways that acclaimed novelists work — specifically, how they develop the discipline and routine to complete highly individual and creative tasks — I’m encouraged by the fact that there’s not one good way to do anything well.

But can Web workers — or anyone in this age — who handle a myriad of tasks on a regular basis find one way of getting them done and not succumb (too often) to the time- and occasionally mind-killing choices available on the Internet? Lately I’ve been sucked into the maw of distraction and I’m trying to claw my way out.

I’m a big fan of Merlin Mann’s prescription to “Write about what you are passionate about. Find out what your voice is and blog the shit out of it.” Clearly this requires concentration of mind and habit and quite often means, for me, to organize research well in advance and write offline. When I accomplish this, it’s because I adhere to the solid practices I crafted as a print journalist, and this is serving as a very familiar foundation.

Yet as I alternate site-building and management work with writing words under my own name, this juggling act runs counter at times to Douglas Rushkoff’s rule to “Pay as much attention to your process and tools as to your output.” These are plural, and not singular, processes, tools and tasks, and at times it seems they are proliferating beyond my ability to grasp them. The biggest challenge is getting things done without feeling overwhelmed.

In a lightning-paced environment that presents constant disruptions and more opportunities to procrastinate than ever before, I occasionally have trouble resisting the temptation. Twitter, take me away!

No wonder contemporary writers often follow the most extreme measures of their predecessors and close themselves off from the world. I think of the bleak setting of Annie Proulx’ “The Shipping News” and place myself in it, at least for an hour or two.  The sooner to get my mind back to a warmer climate!


Readings: News entrepreneurs, the security of freelancing and taming digital distractions

What follows are some links rattling around in my brain, and between the sofa cushions, as I battle to meet a major project deadline and get a better handle on this scattershot life on the Web I’ve been leading. It’s been a romp this week, and by no means is Friday the end of my work week. But hey, I’m not complaining. The joy of deep immersion in the work I love has me getting the same adrenaline rush of breaking news hitting my old newsroom.

If you’ve got some time this weekend, these pieces are well worth your perusal. The first link is the second installment in Michael Massing’s gargantuan examination of the vastly changing news industry for The New York Review of Books (here’s Part I). The following delves into online news ventures and startups trying to replace the journalism that’s disappearing from newspapers:

A New Horizon for the News: “What we do have is a tremendous increase in enthusiasm and initiative that, in the age of the Internet, counts for more than transmitters and printing presses. The retreat of the giant corporations and conglomerates is creating the opportunity for fresh structures to emerge. It remains to be seen whether foundations, wealthy donors, and news consumers will step forward to support them. . . .The opening won’t last forever. Lurking in the wings is a potential new class of media giants. Google, Yahoo, MSNBC, and AOL, all have vast resources that could finance a new oligopolistic push on the Web.”

How journalists can become successful news entrepreneurs: “Great reporters are resourceful. They don’t take no for an answer. If one official won’t answer a question, they’ll go find a document or dig a little more until the official feels compelled to answer. What ever it takes to get the story. No wall is too high or too thick once a good reporter sets his or her mind to reporting a particular story. That drive is the first pre-requisite to being an entrepreneur.”

Can Anybody Pull Off Long Form on the Web? “Salon also thinks that its content—mostly long-form, originally reported stories about politics, entertainment, technology and other topics—is just too costly given the level of interest from advertisers. It believes that advertisers will be more excited by shorter, more real-time pieces.”

Steering Clear of Writers Mills: “For those who feel the need to write something, anything, start a blog. Create a newsletter. Put together a fanzine. Just do something that belongs to you, so that should something come of it, you’re the one benefiting. Let the big time investors do their own work for a change.”

10 Reasons Why Freelancing is the Best Job Security: “Freelancers get exposed to a diverse assortment of ideas, business models, workflow processes, and technologies. This helps you to stay fresh and on the cutting-edge of the best practices in your field.”

50 things that are being killed by the internet: “When was the last time you spent an hour mulling the world out a window, or rereading a favourite book? The internet’s draw on our attention is relentless and increasingly difficult to resist.” (the ones that hit home for me are nos. 9, 12, 14, 21, 27, 29 and 50)

The Hierarchy of Digital Distractions: “Emailing, writing, tweeting, designing, browsing, taking calls, Skyping, Facebooking, RSS Feeding – all blurred into a single technological trance. I seem to switch randomly from one to the other. But actually is there a subtle hierarchy in this cloud? Do I prefer some distractions over others? I think so.” (via Bert DuMars)

Some post-Labor Day ideas on labor

I like to start each week with some positive, upbeat thoughts not only about the work I’ve got on my agenda, but also to stay sharp on the challenges of the changing nature of work, career and the creative impulses. Here are a few items that have been on my mind in recent days:

Lessons from the Great Recession: “Instead of relying on the onetime holy grail of employment—a good-paying job with full benefits—workers may find themselves becoming microentrepreneurs, especially those in creative businesses.”

Sole proprietors account for $1.3 trillion in revenue: “Given these numbers, it’s hard to believe we are often asked if sole proprietors play an important role in the U.S. economy.”

Slaves of the Bonus Culture: “The old class-defined distinctions between those who earn salaries and those who earn wages is thus breaking down. So we encounter the paradox that while everyone today is in some degree professional, that very specialisation combining skill and integrity is breaking down in another sense, especially among the managerial classes. It appears that among many of the richer and more powerful figures, only a kind of special wage, or inducement or incentive, called a bonus, can draw the best out of them.”

•  Work for Passion, Not Money: “You need to understand that your job isn’t just a mindless routine you go through everyday of your life, it’s to contribute – and if you don’t feel happy contributing in a particular field, do something you actually enjoy and are enthusiastic about.” (via Liz Greene)

Real Change, Not Spare Change: “We also need to put people to work building community organizations, and writing plays and making art. The artist’s paycheck is every bit as important as the banker’s paycheck or the auto worker’s paycheck.”

Self promotion and making money in the new digital economy: “In an age in which the old cultural gatekeepers are being swept away, the most pressing challenge of creative artists is to build their own brands. And it’s the Internet which provides creative talent with easy-to-use and cheap tools for their self-promotion.”

Why I Love the Humor of the Web: “As digital matures — and we all agree it is maturing — I hope it doesn’t turn sour and stuffy, like direct marketing traditionally has been (“customer relationship management,” “test-and-learn”), or haughty (“Manifesto”), ephemeral (“Whassup?”) and delayed, like advertising.”

Getting creative on the Web

One of the big questions I’ve had about learning how to write for the Web — and specifically, the practice of blogging — is how different the creative process may be for those like myself who’ve done most of our writing in print.

As leading Web writer Merlin Mann points out in this enlightening video (it runs about an hour long), the approach isn’t so vastly different. Blogging in particular is a highly personalized (and I think very liberating) way of writing, so those of us accustomed to practicing antiseptic “objectivity” need to understand his first imperative very clearly: Write about something you’re passionate, even obsessed, about:

“Find out what your voice is, and blog the shit out of it.”

Most of his other points are actually very basic to the craft of writing in particular, especially writing something every day, even if you don’t post daily. Have several different posts in progress at the same time. Focus on what you think rather than what you feel, edit everything and above all, try to get better every day:

“Traffic will come if you are good.”

The two books he’s found most useful to his writing are from prominent figures in the creative arts: Stephen King’s “On Writing” and “The Creative Habit” by dancer Twyla Tharp.

I also came across this post from Web public relations ace Adam Singer, who blogs on the necessity of creating art no matter your vocation because it’s “the ultimate brain boost.”

Most of Singer’s reasons ring true to me except for the first one: “Creativity breeds success.” This very well may be true, but to start off his post with this one really makes me cringe. Above all I’m just an “art for art’s sake” person. Oscar Wilde, one of its leading practitioners, put it perfectly: All art is quite useless.”

One of the most beneficial things I’ve gained from reading blogs and consuming other content from Web experts such as the two above is to learn how much they value being well-rounded. One of the false assumptions about Webheads is that they’re all about being online, being total geeks. Some are more than others, but I’ve tried to select individuals to follow who stress the importance of unplugging.

So after two very productive days this week learning how to market myself and begin assembling the building blocks of my future, I’m going to step back today and dip into some more creative waters.

Just for the hell of it.